Being an automotive journalist gives you the opportunity to drive a great many vehicles. Some are simply ok, great transportation devices but overall underwhelming. Others, though, are something absolutely wonderful, the kind of vehicles you more need than merely want. These are the magic ones that keep the car hobby alive, even in the new car sector.
The 2021 Land Rover Defender 90 is such a vehicle.
I got the impression that might be the case even before I drove one. My wife, Ann, called me while I was out of town at the Chattanooga Concours saying that the Land Rover had been delivered for a week-long test drive and she wonder if she might use it for some errands.
I advised her to be careful, something that my extra cautious-in-all-things wife seems to do naturally.
She called me back three hours later. Fortunately, not to report anything wrong, but simply to talk about the Defender in glowing terms, saying how much fun it was to drive and how cool it looked. Her only complaint was that the rear seats were difficult to get into and that the shifter safety button was in what she considered to be a weird position.
She ended the conversation saying that the Defender 90 was not a car we needed at home, but that she would love to come up with a reason why we did.
I returned from the concours, spent the week with the Defender 90, and I fell in love at first sight with the car. The new Defender has all the styling cues of the original Land Rover Defender, just updated to modern specifications. This SUV looks as capable as the original and offers such niceties as truly comfortable seats that are heated, all the driver aids one would want in 2021, and a terrific audio system.
This was one of the First Edition models and is powered by a 3.0-liter 6-cylinder engine with 395 horsepower and 406 pound-feed of torque. The SUV charges 0 to 60 mph in 5.7 seconds, a figure the original Defender 90 never achieved — not even in its wildest dreams.
The interior is a wonderful blend of the old and the new, with the aluminum dash embossed with Defender in bold letters. One fun feature is that the front seating is actually set up to seat three across with the center seat foldable into a handy arm rest with dual cup holders. It also has a fantastic Webasto-style folding fabric sunroof that is almost as big as the entire roof.
Rear seat room is more that adequate to allow for people over 6-foot tall to fit comfortably.
Another interesting thing about this new D90 is how nicely it rides on the road. You would think you were driving a more street-orientated SUV such as a BMW X3, with a comfortable ride and quick steering. The original D90 could be driven on the road but never let you forget that you were driving a vehicle that was designed to be off pavement, not on. Sure, you could and can drive the original on-road, but the fillings in your teeth may need a dentist to reposition afterward.
After having the new version on the road for a few days, I wondered if it really was as capable off so I took an afternoon drive to a horribly rutted and muddy farm field near my home and put it in off-road mode. This is another nice feature as it gives you cameras that show the sides and front of the car in order to avoid any physical obstacles.
The Defender took all that I threw at it, purposely driving in into places that I thought might give the SUV a hard time. The Defender took it all in as though it were doing a simply drive to fetch some groceries. This is truly a very capable SUV and possibly the most capable small SUV in the world.
After a week with the vehicle I was trying to figure out a reason to call the Land Rover PR people and tell them I wanted to buy it. As my wife had said, this is the kind of vehicle that makes you want to come up for a reason to own it.
A quick takeaway from my time with this car is that after driving this SUV, there is no way in the world I would consider buying the old Defender 90. The new one offers everything that the original version does yet delivers it in a modern package that is more comfortable, more usable, and better built as the original and even more capable off road.
Keep in mind that until I drove the new Defender 90, I was a big fan of the old one. This is simply the very best version of a retro-modern vehicle I have driven.
2021 Land Rover Defender 90 First Edition
Vehicle type: 5-passenger SUV, all-wheel drive
Base price: $50,050 Price as tested: $64,100
Engine: Supercharged and Turbocharged 3,995 cc inline 6, 395 hp @ 5500 rpm and 406 lb-ft @ 2000 rpm Transmission: 8-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 101.9 inches Overall length / width: 180.4 inches / 78.6 inches
Curb weight: 4,550 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 17 city / 22 highway / 19 combined
Assembled in: England